The (Mis)understanding of Scientific Uncertainty? How Experts View Policy-Makers, the Media and Publics

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Landstrom, Catharina ; Hauxwell-Baldwin, Richard ; Lorenzoni, Irene ; Rogers-Hayden, Tee (2015)

Frequent claims that publics ‘misunderstand’ science ignore the contested definition of scientific uncertainty itself. Scientific uncertainty means different things in the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities, while public controversies show that these interpretations of scientific uncertainty have different implications for policy and decision-making. This prompts analysis of the ways that experts view scientific uncertainty and how they characterise the (mis)understandings of this uncertainty by policy-makers, media and publics. Experts from diverse academic fields define scientific uncertainty differently depending on their disciplinary background. For example, mathematics provides experts from the natural sciences with a practice language that facilitates communication with those sharing this cultural competence, but it does not suffice for engaging with wider audiences. Further, experts’ views of diverse publics come across as folk theories, in Arie Rip’s terms, which, compiled from disparate pieces of information, can be used to fill a gap in the knowledge about publics.
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